Elizabeth Babbott “Babs” Conant ’51, a former Connecticut College professor, dean and member of the Board of Trustees, passed away Aug. 23, 2020, at her home in Buffalo, N.Y., at the age of 91. She was a brilliant intellect and self-described serial activist whose life after Connecticut College took her around the world as an indefatigable teacher and advocate for peace and justice. The world lost a remarkable spirit.
She was an evolutionary zoologist who fought her whole life for civil rights. In the 1960’s, she joined the Freedom Riders to challenge segregation in the Jim Crow south. During the Vietnam War, she staged a protest in a cage to speak against the torture of prisoners of war. In 2012, after New York legalized same-sex marriage, she married her partner of three decades, Camille Cox, and went on to train thousands of student teachers on the importance of safe classrooms for LGBTQIA students.
She was born in Brooklyn on July 7, 1929, the youngest of Frank and Elizabeth French Babbott’s five children. After graduating from Conn in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in zoology, she earned her master’s and a doctorate in biology from Radcliffe College in 1956. In the same year, she moved to Japan for a post at the International Christian University in Tokyo. She returned to Connecticut College in 1958 at the invitation of Rosemary Park to serve as assistant professor of vertebrate zoology, dean of sophomores and international student advisor.
In 1963, she left Conn for a position at the University of Nigeria, in Nsukka, where she began her work on the African lungfish, for which she became internationally known. For the next two decades, her academic career would take her to Wellesley, the University of Virginia, Mary Baldwin College, the University of Buffalo and finally Canisius College, where she arrived in 1982 and stayed until her retirement.
She served as a trustee of Connecticut College from 1982-1992 and in 1995 was awarded the College Medal, the highest honor the college bestows. In 2002, the Lear-Conant Symposium was established with a gift from one of her dearest friends, the historian and biographer Linda J. Lear ’62. “I first knew her as the sophomore dean,” Lear said, “and while she could be tough as nails when need be, her laugh was infectious, her voice strong and compelling, and as a friend there was no one finer or more trustworthy.” Lear went on: “She had an extraordinary mind, was an adventurous, challenging leader and a woman of great compassion and faithfulness.” The symposium, a biennial conference in the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment, carries on the legacy of this unrivaled scholar-activist.
She is survived by her wife Camille and her stepchildren Tara, Miya and Ethan.